Late last year, Pixar head Ed Catmull announced plans to publish Creativity, Inc., a business-oriented look at his leadership strategies at the studio. With its release soon approaching, Catmull has published an excerpt from the book at Fast Company with some surprising insight into the creative process behind the studio’s next film.
The full article is a must-read, but a key section examines a Brain Trust meeting during the early stages of Inside Out‘s development. Early reactions were enthusiastic, but the group was concerned with the execution of one key scene: "an argument between two characters about why certain memories fade while others burn bright forever." Brad Bird was the first to chime in:
"I understand that you want to keep this simple and relatable," he told [director Pete Docter], "but I think we need something that your audience can get a little more invested in."
"I think you need to spend more time settling on the rules of your imagined world," [Stanton] said. […] In Pete’s ﬁlm, one of the rules—at least at this point—was that memories (depicted as glowing glass globes) were stored in the brain by traveling through a maze of chutes into a kind of archive. When retrieved or remembered, they’d roll back down another tangle of chutes, like bowling balls being returned to bowlers at the alley.
That construct was elegant and effective, but Andrew suggested that another rule needed to be clariﬁed: how memories and emotions change over time, as the brain gets older. This was the moment in the ﬁlm, Andrew said, to establish some key themes. Listening to this, I remembered how in Toy Story 2, the addition of Wheezy helped establish the idea that damaged toys could be discarded, left to sit, unloved, on the shelf. Andrew felt there was a similar opportunity here. "Pete, this movie is about the inevitability of change," he said. "And of growing up."
This set Brad off. "A lot of us in this room have not grown up—and I mean that in the best way," he said. "The conundrum is how to become mature and become reliable while at the same time preserving your childlike wonder. People have come up to me many times, as I’m sure has happened to many people in this room, and said, ‘Gee, I wish I could be creative like you. That would be something, to be able to draw.’ But I believe that everyone begins with the ability to draw. Kids are instinctively there. But a lot of them unlearn it. Or people tell them they can’t or it’s impractical. So yes, kids have to grow up, but maybe there’s a way to suggest that they could be better off if they held on to some of their childish ideas."
To see how the Brain Trust debate continues, be sure to read the full article at Fast Company. There’s no doubt that the full version of Creativity, Inc., out on April 8, will feature plenty more fascinating behind-the-scenes stories. You can preorder it now on Amazon.